|Directed by||Robert Hiltzik|
|Written by||Robert Hiltzik|
|Music by||Edward Bilous|
American Eagle Films
|Distributed by||United Film Distribution Company|
|Box office||$11 million|
Sleepaway Camp (released as Nightmare Vacation in the United Kingdom) is a 1983 American slasher film written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, who also served as executive producer. It is the first film in the Sleepaway Camp film series, and tells the story of a young girl sent to a summer camp that becomes the site of a series of murders shortly after her arrival. It stars Felissa Rose, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Mike Kellin (in his last screen appearance), and Christopher Collet (in his first).
Released during the heyday of slasher movies, the film is known for its infamous twist ending, considered to be one of the genre's most shocking. Since its release, the film received a positive critical response and a cult following. It was followed by three sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989), and Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008).
In summer 1975, John Baker and his partner Lenny take John's children Angela and Peter on a boating trip near Camp Arawak. Angela and Peter prank their father by capsizing their boat. They attempt to swim ashore where Lenny is waiting for them, but camp counselor Mary Ann recklessly strikes John and Peter with her speedboat, leaving just Angela alive.
Eight years later, in 1983, the now 14 years old Angela lives with her eccentric aunt, Dr. Martha Thomas, and Martha's son Ricky. Aunt Martha sends Angela to Camp Arawak for the first time, along with Ricky, who had attended the camp before.
Shy, meek and introverted Angela quickly becomes a target for ridicule and bullying, mostly from her bunkmate Judy and their counselor Meg, while Angela's other counselor Susie and the camp's head counselor Ronnie do what they can to help her fit in. Head cook Artie takes Angela to the kitchen pantry, where he attempts to molest her, but is caught by Ricky, who runs out with Angela. Later, an unseen figure causes Artie to knock over a pot of boiling water and severely scald himself. Camp owner Mel Kostic dismisses it as an accident in order to avoid bad publicity.
When campers Kenny and Mike mock Angela, Ricky and his best friend Paul fight them until their counselor Gene intervenes. After the brawl, Paul befriends Angela and tells her goodnight. Angela, speaking for the first time and opening herself to Paul, tells him goodnight as well, making him rejoice. That night, after pranking a girl named Leslie by tipping her boat, Kenny is drowned by a silhouetted attacker. When lifeguard Hal finds his corpse the next morning, Mel insists his death was accidental, although Ronnie and police officer Frank express doubt. Meanwhile, Paul asks Angela to attend the mandatory movie night with him, and she accepts. After the movie, Paul walks Angela to her cabin and surprises her with two goodnight kisses, but she hastily tells him she has to go.
After campers Billy and Mike throw water balloons at Angela, Billy is stung to death when a mysterious figure traps him in a bathroom stall and drops a hive of bees in it. Mel suspects a killer is in the camp.
That night, Paul and Angela playfully run around the lakeshore, but when Paul begins making out with Angela, she has a flashback to when she and her sibling witnessed their father in bed with Lenny. The flashback goes further showing both of the siblings pointing to another whilst in bed. At the end of the flashback, Angela recoils from Paul's advances and runs away, which leaves him confused. The following day, during a flag game, Judy takes her chance to seduce Paul and Angela finds the two of them kissing. Paul attempts to explain himself to Angela after a swimming session, but Judy and Meg shoo him away and throw Angela into the water. After Ricky rescues her, children fling sand at them. Ricky comforts Angela and swears revenge on her aggressors.
Meg is stabbed to death in the shower while getting ready to meet Mel. At that night’s social, Paul apologizes to Angela for what happened earlier with Judy and she tells him to meet her at the waterfront later. The children who threw sand at Angela and Ricky are camping in the woods with their counselor Eddie when two of them ask him to take them back to the main camp. He returns to find the four remaining children hacked to death with his hatchet. Back at the camp, the killer enters Judy's cabin and murders her, raping her with a hot curling iron while smothering her with a pillow. The camp is thrown into a panic while Mel finds Meg's dead body and, convinced that the killer is Ricky after hearing him swear vengeance against Angela's tormentors, beats him mercilessly and escapes into the woods, where he encounters the real killer. In shock, he appears to recognize the assailant before being shot in the throat with an arrow.
Frank is called and searches with the counselors for the missing campers and for the killer; they discover Ricky unconscious but alive. In the meantime, Paul is at the waterfront with Angela, who suggests they go skinny dipping, so they undress. Ronnie and Susie find Angela sitting on the lakeshore with Paul, who appears to be resting in her lap as she tenderly strokes his hair, humming quietly.
Another flashback shows Aunt Martha welcoming the survivor of the boat accident into her home. It is revealed that it was Angela the one who died in the accident and that Aunt Martha, after taking custody of Peter, raised him as his dead sister because she already had a boy and wanted a little girl. Back in the present, Angela, who is actually Peter, drops Paul's severed head on the ground holding a hunting knife and stands up nude, covered in blood and with a penis in plain view before the horrified Susie and Ronnie, growling with a frozen and deranged expression that fades into a negative green tint as the credits roll with a dissonant love song. Ronnie and Susie's fate is left unknown.
- Felissa Rose as Angela / Peter Baker
- Frank Sorrentino as young Peter
- Colette Lee Corcoran as young Angela
- Jonathan Tiersten as Ricky Thomas
- Karen Fields as Judy
- Christopher Collet as Paul
- Mike Kellin as Mel Costic
- Katherine Kamhi as Meg
- Paul DeAngelo as Ronnie Angelo
- Susan Glaze as Susie
- Amy Baio as Brooke Warner
- Tom Van Dell as Mike
- Loris Sallahain as Billy
- John E. Dunn as Kenny
- Ethan Larosa as Jimmy
- Willy Kuskin as Mozart
- Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha Thomas
- Owen Hughes as Artie
- Robert Earl Jones as Ben
- Frank Trent Saladino as Gene
- Rick Edrich as Jeff
- Fred Greene as Eddie
- Allen Breton as Frank the Cop
- Lisa Buckler as Leslie
- Michael C. Mahon as Hal
- Dan Tursi as John Baker
- James Paradise as Lenny
- Paul Poland as Craig
- Alyson Mord as Mary Ann
- Carol Robinson as Dolores
Film critic and transgender woman Willow Maclay, in an essay about Sleepaway Camp for the magazine Cléo, characterizes the film's ending, in which Angela is revealed to have a penis, as both a unique element that sets it apart from other slasher films of the era and "deeply transmisogynistic". Maclay criticized the film for its "equation of mental instability with having grown up in a gender role not concurrent with your identity. Nearly every single transgender person grows up being raised in a gender role that does not fit, and that doesn't mean that they are mentally ill or seriously violent".
BJ Colangelo, in an editorial for Dread Central, wrote that "the ending of Sleepaway Camp offers two reveals that are wildly offensive to the LGBTQ+ community", referring to the reveal of Angela's penis as transphobic, and the reveal that their deceased father was homosexual as homophobic. However, Colangelo adds that the film "is terrible transgender representation, yes, but it's an incredible metaphor about how forcing gender roles onto someone that doesn't align with who they are is fucking dangerous. If Peter had not been forced to live his life as 'Angela', the events of Sleepaway Camp would have been avoided". Colangelo clarifies that she is not arguing that gender dysphoria causes those experiencing it to become murderers, but rather that "children experiencing gender dysphoria and living in non-affirming homes are prone to depression, thoughts of suicide, and yes, sometimes violent outbursts".
Transgender writer Alice Collins of Bloody Disgusting stated that Sleepaway Camp "is steeped in queerness, especially when compared to its contemporaries. In its day it took a deeper look into the subject matter than that of other films. Angela and Peter's dad is a closeted gay man, there's forced gender bending (which is abuse rather than queer but people will see it as such), and the majority of the scantily clad people in the film are men with all those very short shorts that leave little to the imagination while there is little skin shown of the feminine variety". Collins argues that Angela is a transgender girl, noting that, in the film's sequels, Angela is presented as a woman who uses feminine pronouns: "So despite Aunt Martha being insane, she just happened to stumble upon a person who was already a girl; and it was an accident that her brainwashing worked".
The filming of Sleepaway Camp took place in Argyle, New York near Summit Lake at a camp formerly known as Camp Algonquin. In interviews, screenwriter and director, Robert Hiltzik, has said that he attended that camp as a child. The movie was filmed in five weeks starting in September 1982 and ending in October of that year on a budget of $350,000. The film had been storyboarded but after the first day of filming, the movie was already behind schedule. The storyboards could not be used and were thrown out. The trees, with their leaves turning, belie the summer setting of the film.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, which had adults portraying youth, the cast of Sleepaway Camp was primarily made up of adolescent actors.
Sleepaway Camp opened in 85 theatres in New York City on November 18, 1983. According to the American Film Institute, it had its premiere in Los Angeles the following spring on May 25, 1984. The August 1984 Box review reported that the first week box-office gross at fifteen Los Angeles, California theaters was $90,000.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released Sleepaway Camp on DVD on August 8, 2000. Anchor Bay reissued this disc as part of a four-disc set titled the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit on August 20, 2002, which also contained the film's two sequels, as well as a bonus disc featuring footage from the unfinished third sequel. This boxed set, which featured a medical red cross on the front cover, was discontinued in late 2002 after the Red Cross filed a complaint against Anchor Bay, which subsequently redesigned the box art to remove the cross logo. In 2005, the Canadian-based Legacy Entertainment released a region-free budget DVD release of the film. Unlike the original VHS release, this release contains numerous edits to the film to either shorten violence or certain moments like dialogue.
Scream Factory released the film in a collector's edition Blu-ray set on May 27, 2014. This release contains a 2K scan of the original camera negative, and this release also has the film in its original uncut version, unlike the DVD released by Anchor Bay.
A review in The Courier-Journal characterized the film as a "low-budget slasher in the Friday the 13th mold, with teen-age mayhem at a summer camp". In the Chula Vista Star-News, the film was deemed "a tasteless picture about mysterious murders at a summer youth camp that obscenely blends beheadings, stabbings, pubescent impulses, homosexuality, and transvestism with a cast of junior-high-school actors". The News-Press called it "a shockingly good slasher film, if you use the relatively fine, first Friday the 13th as a measuring stick... it's just another crazed killer stalking nubile summer campers. But, this time, there are some truly creative killings and interesting plot twists".
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Sleepaway Camp holds a 79% approval rating based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The consensus reads: "Sleepaway Camp is a standard teen slasher elevated by occasional moments of John Waters-esque weirdness and a twisted ending". On Metacritic, the film was reviewed by 4 critics and got a rank of 58 out of a 100, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".
The website Bloody Disgusting gave the film a positive review, praising Felissa Rose's performance and the film's twist ending calling it "one of the most shocking seen since, possibly, Hitchcock's Psycho". AllMovie wrote in its review on the film: "While most of the gender-bending story's sexual confusion is ultimately half-baked... Sleepaway Camp is distinctive enough to warrant required viewing for genre enthusiasts".
Over the years, the film has gained a cult following from fans of the slasher genre and garnered critical reappraisal. Film scholar Bartłomiej Paszylk called the film "an exceptionally bad movie but a very good slasher". Commenting on the performances in the film, film scholar Thomas Sipos wrote "[the film] feels odd due to its contrasting acting styles. Most of the cast performs in a naturalistic manner, whereas Desiree Gould's performance as Aunt Martha is strikingly stylistic: broadly overplayed to the point of caricature".
In his book The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: A Historical Survey (2009), Paszylk characterized Sleepaway Camp as "elevat[ing] the kids to the position of the movie's mass protagonist and becomes a tricky metaphor of the unspeakable pains and anxieties of growing up". He further commented on the film's conclusion: "The epiphanous ending brings Sleepaway Camp further away from the likes of Friday the 13th and closer to such 1980s 'slashers with a twist' as Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and April Fool's Day (1986); but Hiltzik's movie goes even further than that: in this case the denouement doesn't just add a new dimension to everything we saw up to this point, but it pushes its way deep into our minds and stays with us forever".
The film was featured on episode 48 of the podcast How Did This Get Made? where hosts Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, June Diane Raphael, and guest host Zack Pearlman struggled to decipher the film's opening moments, due to the ambiguous relationships established at the beginning of the film. Scheer later recalled that it had been the most fan-requested film "by a landslide".
In the late 1980s, Hiltzik sold the rights to the successive Sleepaway Camp films, after which Michael A. Simpson directed two sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989). In them, Angela (now played by Bruce Springsteen's younger sister, Pamela Springsteen) resurfaces at a nearby summer camp, but this time masquerading as a counselor after a sex reassignment surgery. Much like at the previous camp, she gleefully tortures and kills anyone who misbehaves or annoys her. These films had more of a satirical comic tone than the original.
Another sequel, Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, directed by Jim Markovic, was partially filmed in the early 1990s but left incomplete. In 2002, the unfinished footage was released and made available as an exclusive fourth disc in Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment's Sleepaway Camp DVD boxed set. In 2012, the film was completed using archival footage from the first three films and released on DVD and Amazon Video on Demand.
A fifth film, Return to Sleepaway Camp, was completed in 2003 and initially struggled to have its visual effects completed. It was directed by Robert Hiltzik, the director of the original 1983 film. According to Fangoria, the digital effects were redone from 2006 to 2008. The film was released in 2008.
The purportedly final film in the Sleepaway Camp series, titled Sleepaway Camp Reunion, was also announced to be in the works. Distribution had been arranged via Magnolia Pictures. Creator Robert Hiltzik, who recovered the rights to the franchise, has stated that he would make the film if his budget was met. However, Hiltzik and Return To Sleepaway Camp producer Jeff Hayes later announced themselves as having started work on a reboot that would retain the key characters and elements of the original film with additional storyline elements and a dose of modernizing. As of Summer 2014, Hiltzik was reportedly tweaking the script. In addition, Michael Simpson, the director of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, wrote a script for an additional film called Sleepaway Camp: Berserk.
Karen Fields reprised her role from Sleepaway Camp in the 2014 short film Judy, although it wasn't technically a sequel. The Jeff Hayes-directed film was included in the collector's edition Blu-ray release of the original Sleepaway Camp.
According to horror-movie fansite Bloody Disgusting, a reboot of Sleepaway Camp is in the works, starring Felissa Rose.
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